Bleak and blustery days call for subtle colors and shapes in our winter landscapes. It’s certainly a different scene from the usual spring-summer-fall seasons of glorious coloring and lush growth.

This time of year is when we see the bare bones of our landscape; it's a perfect time to reflect on what improvements might enhance our yards in the future.

Shapes and textures become predominant, especially with a light covering of snow. Think how pronounced a path of stepping stones becomes, or a wall with niches that catch bits of snow. Statuary or other hardy ornaments that can take freezing weather stand out because they’re not competing with all that lush summer growth.

Tall, flowing grasses in summer months change into straw-colored standouts this time of year. Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ with its stately 5-foot tall beige stems is superb for winter interest. Leave them be for winter enjoyment and then cut back in February or March just before new growth emerges.

Cold temperatures intensify the burgundy and bronzy tones of many plants. Bold, large rounded leaves of bergenias, both ground hugging and taller sedums, Oregon grape, plus several other perennials darken and become more predominant in these gray months.

Tree silhouettes stand out. This is an excellent time to seriously decide what branches need trimming both for symmetry as well as health. Remove crossing branches and any broken ones.

Interesting bark patterns attract interest especially during this time of low drama. Paperbark maple’s reddish bark stands out, with peeling bark that resembles paper, hence its name.

Bare branches stand out on deciduous shrubs. Vibrant colors of redtwig dogwood and its relative, yellowtwig, are accentuated by cold weather in our otherwise sparse winter landscape palette.

Fix a cup of hot coffee and wander outside to admire the subtle beauty there, and dream of changes you might make for an even better landscape next winter.


A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Mary Fran McClure is one of four columnists featured.